April 2, 2023

Families pursuing their ancestral land rights over a portion of the Philippine Military Academy reservation are not giving up on their claim even with a recent court decision convicting some family members for illegal entry into the reservation.
In a forum with the city council on Feb. 13, Chacchacan clan elder Huberto Caroy said their claim filed before the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples is a separate issue which is yet to be decided by the commission.
The Chacchacan clan’s application of around 28 hectares, covers a portion of Fort del Pilar is pending because of a protest by the PMA.
Caroy said mediation proceedings have been initiated by NCIP-Baguio but this failed and has been elevated to the NCIP-Cordillera for another round of mediation.
Another clan, the heirs of Delia Canda, which was issued a certificate of ancestral land claim (CALC) covering three hectares, has applied for the conversion of its CALC into a certificate of ancestral land title but the application is also pending, said NCIP-Baguio Legal Officer Severino Lumiqued.
The city council called for the meeting with some of the claimants and PMA after the latter declined the request of the body to observe status quo in its fencing project.
PMA Legal Officer Maria Elena Esteban said unless a restraining order is issued by the court, fencing of the reservation will proceed.
However, she gua-ranteed PMA will not demolish structures illegally built within the reservation as it is a function lodged with the City Buildings and Architecture Office.
She also said populated areas will not be fenced until issues on adverse claims are resolved.
Some members of the city council reminded PMA to be cautious in dealing with supposed informal settlers within the reservation for they may have valid claims.
Councilors Jose Molintas and Peter Fianza said the presidential proclamation used by the PMA as basis in asserting its claim over the reservation carries a provision that the area is subject to “prior land rights.”
Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative Maximo Edwin Jr. added the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act should prevail over a presidential proclamation.
Esteban said PMA is aware of this, which is why it remains open to negotiating with the ancestral land claimants, albeit the issue has also been referred to the Office of the Solicitor General.
Apart from the two clans that have pending applications with the NCIP, the Bontoc Organization of Purok Ongasan, Loakan Inc. (Bopoli) is also contesting PMA’s construction of a perimeter fence.
Bopoli said the fence would enclose the area they are currently occupying.
The PMA reservation covers 3,731,399 square meters while the Bopoli claim covers 29,631 square meters. They said the area had been occupied by their forefathers prior to the establishment of the academy.
Meanwhile, the Onjon ni Ivadoy, the biggest group of indigenous peoples in Baguio and Benguet, gave its support to claimants.
In a manifesto, Onjon said the court did not give credence to prior rights, which necessitated for the case to be appealed.
“It is clear as day that the issue on the vested rights of the ancestral land claimants guaranteed and protected by the constitution and other laws such as the IPRA were not tackled in said ruling of the court,” the group said. – Rimaliza A. Opina with reports from Jordan G. Habbiling